September 2010 Issue
Health Claims — Help Clients Understand the Meaning Behind Industry Buzzwords
By Andy Bellatti, MS
Vol. 12 No. 9 P. 50
There was a time when clients would question us about fairly straightforward health claims they had spotted on product packaging. Is 100% whole-wheat bread the nutritional twin of honey-wheat bread? Does multigrain indicate a more healthful bread? Is fat free another way of saying low calorie?
As food companies continue to find new health-related claims to advertise products, dietitians must familiarize themselves with the latest buzzwords to help clients grocery shop without getting distracted by minutia.
Familiarize yourself with the details behind several common health and/or ingredient claims:
• Made with expeller-pressed oil: An oil is considered expeller pressed when it is extracted from its source (usually a seed or nut) solely through a crushing mechanism. But vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, and safflower, commonly used in processed and fast foods, are extracted chemically with the aid of hexane, a petrochemical that is also used as a paint dilutant and solvent.1
Hexane, a neurotoxin, was classified as a hazardous air pollutant in 1993 by the Environmental Protection Agency and may lead to serious health complications if inhaled.2 Studies are currently investigating the effects, if any, of consistent hexane consumption. Though there aren’t many, existing studies have concluded that health risks from consuming hexane can only be attributed to excessive (and implausible) amounts in food.
Though calorically equivalent to conventional oils, expeller-pressed oils are less processed. Environmentally conscious clients may also appreciate knowing that oil production involving hexane may create greenhouse gases.3
• Stoneground wheat flour or 100% stoneground wheat: This claim often appears on breads and crackers. Stoneground flour is made by grinding flour solely in stone mills. Commercial loaves of bread, however, are prepared in conventional roller mills, according to the book How Baking Works by Paula Figoni.
Since the FDA has not drafted a legal definition of how companies can use the term stoneground to advertise food, manufacturers can use it as they please. Thus, bread companies can potentially label their breads as stoneground if the flour has gone through a stone mill one time. Mind you, this would be equivalent to a product being advertised as baked even though it had first been fried. It’s misleading and doesn’t communicate any nutritionally relevant information to consumers.
Remind clients that refined flours have the same nutritional profile regardless of the type of mill used to process them. As always, when purchasing breads, the operative words are “whole [insert name of grain here] flour.” Stoneground is not an indication that a type of bread is inherently more healthful or nutritious.
• X grams of whole grains per serving: Often appearing on packages of crackers and cookies, this may be one of the most confusing terms, as many consumers equate grams of whole grains with grams of fiber. But 5 g of fiber is very different from 5 g of whole grains.
As RDs know, MyPyramid defines one serving of grains as 1 oz. MyPyramid specifies that one half of the recommended six grain servings be in their whole form (eg, oatmeal, brown rice, whole-wheat couscous, barley) rather than enriched (eg, white bread, white rice, “white” pasta). Since 1 oz is equal to 28 g, that means three servings (3 oz) of whole grains equal 84 g of whole grains, correct? Not quite. Look up whole grain serving recommendations in any USDA nutrition document and you’ll find a daily suggestion of 48 g.
Some simple math reveals that one whole grain serving is equal to 16 g (48 g divided by 3 servings per day = 16 g of whole grains in one serving). But isn’t a 1-oz serving of grains equal to 28 g according to MyPyramid? Shouldn’t 1 oz of whole grains also be 28 g? Yes, but the majority of grain products that weigh 28 g (1 oz) per serving contain various additional ingredients, not just flour.
It turns out that a single 1-oz grain serving packs in approximately 16 g of flour. So although that slice of whole-wheat bread weighs 28 grams, 16 of those grams are flour. The rest is a combination of salt, sugars, water, and other miscellaneous ingredients.
These claims often appear on products with a sprinkling of whole-wheat flour on top, products that are virtually refined grains. The majority of “X grams of whole grains per serving” claims I have spotted range from 5 g to 8 g. Considering that recommendations call for least 48 g per day, 5 g doesn’t hold much weight.
When recommending whole grain products to clients, provide them with three simple tips:
1. Let them know that the quantity of fiber grams is the important number.
2. Remind them that they want to see a whole grain at the beginning of the ingredient list (as opposed to an isolated fiber appearing in the middle of the list).
3. When in doubt, clients can look to the Whole Grains Council stamp. Foods marked as “excellent sources” contain significant amounts of whole grains.
• High in antioxidants: With antioxidants gaining media attention for various health benefits, it’s unsurprising that the term is beginning to appear on the packaging of shelf-stable products. However, some of these claims simply refer to the presence of vitamins A, C, and E, which are usually included during processing.
While these vitamins are indeed antioxidants, there are important concepts worth explaining to your clients who may think a highly processed energy bar is a particularly smart choice owing to its antioxidant claim.
With antioxidants, it is more beneficial to consume a wide variety in one given food to allow them to work synergistically. Nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables contain significantly higher levels of antioxidants than snack foods fortified with a handful of vitamins. Research has demonstrated that antioxidants operate most effectively and provide optimal health benefits when they work within a food matrix rather than as isolated components.
It’s What’s Inside That Counts
A good rule of thumb to pass on to clients is to never judge a product by its packaging. Consumers should determine a food’s true worth by reading the Nutrition Facts label and ingredients list.
— Andy Bellatti, MS, is on the registered dietitian track at New York University.
1. Environmental Protection Agency. Vegetable oil processing. Available at: http://www.epa.gov/ttnchie1/ap42/ch09/final/c9s11-1.pdf. Accessed July 7, 2010.
2. Environmental Protection Agency. Hexane hazard summary. Available at: http://www.epa.gov/ttn/atw/hlthef/hexane.html. Accessed May 15, 2010.
3. Scientific American. Canadian scientists put the hex on hexane emissions. March 30, 2010. Available at: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=canadian-scientists-put-the-hex-on-2010-03 . Accessed May 13, 2010.